I should preface this post by saying that I was never and wont ever bother to invested too much time "getting into" Attack on Titan's story. The first season was great in that way an action shounen anime is, but I never cared much beyond that. As such, it should also go without saying that this critique, or whatever I should call it, will not be too detailed, and will no doubt get things wrong and so on.
The Attack on Titan series has consistently sprinkled in hints of something bigger, something much deeper and more complex going on behind the scenes since the very beginning. Eren's father's oh-so-mysterious key being the definitive key to it all, both in a literal and figurative sense. As the episodes and seasons went on, these hints went from simple recollections of the past to something much more concrete. Mere hints went from flashbacks to dialogue between the those found to be allied to the enemy, to whole scenes taking place from their perspective.
As the story progressed, we learnt more and more about just what was actually going on. Unfortunately, while the idea of expanding upon, and subsequently getting more content to watch, seemed like a fantastic idea to a great many fans, the execution has left much to be desired. Not only has the show been increasingly more reliant on mindless drama and contrived plot points, the writing itself has been something of a letdown.
The show made for an excellent shounen action romp with its first season, it really did. The second season, however, gave way for more in depth lore building and stronger focus on drama, which made parts of which be more of a, comparatively, bore to watch at times. It introduced the concept of the distinct other side of intelligent, man-powered if you will, titans. One such example being the hair-covered titan, whose role would later take a prominent position in the story; and not for the best of reasons, in more ways than one.
With each season, the show had an increasingly stronger tendency to turn to cheap stunts for the sake of "spicing up" the story. This is nothing but a lazy way of creating a plot line. The reason might be related to the fact that the author felt a need to up the anti, to keep readers coming back, or perhaps the publisher pushed for it. In either case, it didn't make for a story progression that felt satisfying.
The fourth season and titular “Final” season starts off with trying to get the viewers to give a damn about the "enemy" side – to empathize with their perspective on the conflict – that it further degenerates into a typical Hollywood spectacle. Killing off characters left and right, and, most annoyingly, utilizing every method possible to turn the baddies into the gang we should apparently now sort of side with – or at the very least have stronger feelings for. Of course, this is hardly a novel concept and it has been executed successfully more than a few times in the past. However, the execution present in this series falls completely flat on its head.
The idea of getting the viewer to suddenly develop sympathy for another side, who has been shown to take nothing but objectively villainous actions for multiple seasons is nothing but moronic. The story has set up all these plot points where the main cast’s side is clearly being consistently attacked, completely unprovoked, and now it’s that plot is suddenly expected to take a complete 180 in the viewer’s mind. No, that doesn’t work.
Even if, say, you had a series be cast from the objectively bad side, you can’t expect the viewer to suddenly start caring for the “enemy” all of a sudden. As an example of this, Youjo Senki comes to mind, being set to an alternative WW1 Germany with magic. Senki’s movie specially, which followed its first season, tried the same thing but didn’t fail so spectacularly. The reason being that it didn’t try so hard to force the viewer to feel for the enemy. It showed scenes and built up their characters, yes, but it didn’t come across so forced as AoT does. While one felt natural, the other felt forced and dramatic purely for the sake of evoking feelings and causing hype.
Now, perhaps one should expect anything too deep from what is technically "just" a shounen anime, but I do think that its only fair to judge the series based on what story and message it tries to deliver. And in this case, the AoT series tries so incredibly hard to make up a this big grand complex story, and so it should be judged accordingly.
Perhaps this truly is a me problem; maybe I’m just some sort of psychopath who can’t quite grasp how I should give a crap about characters who has no connected to the main cast what so ever; and maybe the story is far more ingenious than I realize, not having paid that close attention to it. That I don’t know, but what I do know, is that I’m think that AoT's story progressively went off the rails, and that I didn't like the “final season” in the slightest.
Attack on Titan. (2013). [Blu-Ray] Pony Canyon.
Hodgkins, C. (2019). Kodansha: Hajime Isayama Aims to End Attack on Titan Manga in 2020. [online] Anime News Network. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20190524075023/https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2018-11-30/hajime-isayama-reveals-his-struggles-to-draw-the-end-of-attack-on-titan/.140115 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].
Morrissy, K. (2018). Hajime Isayama Reveals His Struggles to Draw the End of Attack on Titan. [online] Anime News Network. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20201115121622/https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/daily-briefs/2019-12-28/kodansha-hajime-isayama-aims-to-end-attack-on-titan-manga-in-2020/.154850 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].
*: Exact number might be off.
References to ANN is via the Internet Archive since I refuse to link directly to garbage news outlets. Also, I'm not bothering to add every individual season to the list.